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Harness technology to improve travel and anticipate future impacts

Harness technology to improve travel and anticipate future impacts

The pace of technological innovation in transportation, already rapid, seems likely to accelerate for many years to come. In the near term, existing technologies can improve the safety, efficiency, reliability, and resilience of our transportation network. In the long term, emerging technologies like connected and autonomous vehicles and private mobility services like car sharing and ridesourcing present both a remarkable opportunity and a challenge for regional planning. The increasing availability of real-time data, expanded communications technology, and emerging approaches to demand management and mobility lets us more effectively use the transportation system already in place today and prepare for future technological advances. By strategically employing technology, we can improve the way this network functions in support of community livability and economic vitality.


Some of the most promising innovations could improve travel time reliability, that is, increase predictability for the same trips compared day-to-day. FHWA estimates that 60 percent of travel delay nationwide is actually caused by non-recurring sources like crashes or other incidents, construction, and weather.[1] Because these factors are less predictable than daily congestion factors such as travel demand and system capacity, they cause unreliable travel that costs drivers, transit riders, and businesses that must budget extra time and expense to avoid being late for work, appointments, or deliveries. ON TO 2050 sets a target of improving the reliability of travel on the interstate system, which will have broad benefits for the entire transportation system.

Reliability is best improved by changing how roads are managed and operated, rather than expanding the system. Increasingly, highway management involves data, communications, and technologies that help system managers optimize traffic flow, and detect and respond to situations as they arise. On a regional scale, this will involve coordination and communication between highway agencies, emergency management services, transit operators, and real-time traveler information services, paired with extensive deployment of communications and data processing infrastructure. Because incidents on one agency’s road network can have major impacts on other networks, the region clearly needs a more holistic, integrated approach to traffic management. This is particularly true in congested corridors where the interstate and arterial systems interact and deteriorating traffic conditions on one system affect the performance of the other.


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show technology investments and their benefits for travel reliability.]


CMAP evaluated a number of strategies for improving reliability and found that enhancing incident management, facilitated through better information sharing, was among the most effective approaches.[2] Similarly, implementing traffic management centers (TMCs), another strategy that relies heavily on better information exchange facilitated by technology, is extremely effective. Information exchange can improve response to changing situations like special events and other variations in traffic by allowing transportation agencies to change traffic signal timing, alter ramp meter timing, provide real-time traveler information, and take other steps to balance travel demand among arterials, interstates, and transit services in a corridor during peak congestion and major incidents. While there are some existing examples of limited corridor-level integration where agencies manage arterial traffic signals to improve safety of expressway ramps and mainlines and where different system operators post messages about conditions on other corridor roadways, more progress is necessary to meet regional goals for system reliability. Future mainstream adoption of connected vehicle technology, which can allow vehicles to communicate with one another as well as with traffic signals, TMCs, and other infrastructure can amplify the effectiveness of investments in modernized infrastructure. For example, the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) has been reconstructed to include flexible infrastructure to accommodate new “smart” features, such as roadway cameras that enhance the Tollway’s ability to respond to traffic and weather incidents and enable transit to bypass incidents using the flex lane.


The transit system can also benefit from adopting innovative technologies and enhancing existing systems. Even in the highest ridership corridors, transit only captures a fraction of the potential travel market. Reevaluating these corridors may reveal opportunities to improve services and employ some of the technologies developed by private sector mobility services. Traffic management centers can provide operators with more timely and accurate performance data to better manage their systems. Sensors, GPS tracking capabilities, and communications infrastructure being implemented by Metra as part of Positive Train Control not only improve system safety but also offer additional opportunities to collect and share real-time travel information about the system. Bus routes on roads with transit signal priority (TSP) can make transit trips faster and more reliable than passenger vehicle trips. Real-time information about arrivals and departures, travel times, and incidents is already helping bus and train passengers to plan more reliable commutes via transit or multiple modes. While continuing to evolve, these technologies offer opportunities for transit agencies to collect and analyze important new information to improve passengers’ experiences. See the Make transit more competitive recommendation for more information.


The pace and disruptive nature of technological change make it difficult to predict just how transportation will evolve by 2050. Much discussion of technology’s potential impacts generally revolves around two divergent outcomes. In the first, personal ownership of AVs would result in more inefficient land development, less public transit use, and increased traffic from low-occupancy or even unoccupied vehicles. In the second, more preferable future, fleets of shared vehicles would reduce individual car ownership, facilitate more dense, walkable development patterns, and increase transit ridership, walking, and biking. In both cases, technology could enable safer, more independent mobility for residents throughout the region, yet also could exacerbate existing disparities. The most likely outcome is a mix of these impacts that vary across the U.S., highly dependent on how much AVs cost, how quickly they predominate among vehicles, and how local policy makers address these converging challenges. Our region can make decisions and policies now to smooth the transition to a more automated fleet while affirmatively guiding the future impacts of AVs to meet regional goals. These policies also often meet existing goals for the system, such as implementing managed lanes to increase travel choices. With strategic investments and policy interventions, our leaders must shape the development of emerging technologies and better position the Chicago region to achieve economic vitality and improved quality of life for all. Such decisions about investments and policies should be coordinated across many levels of government with participation by residents, civic leaders, and the private sector, always keeping in mind that technology should be deployed in service of regional goals.


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show potential land use and transportation impacts of autonomous vehicles.]


Technologies discussed in this recommendation have the potential to generate more data on mobility than ever before. Increased real-time transportation data can provide a deeper understanding of travel behavior and help agencies make informed decisions about investments, policies, and operations. The private sector, particularly goods movement companies and TNCs, has already benefited from such data to improve operations, decrease delivery/travel times, and create new services, but they often resist sharing data with public agencies or participating in open data portals, citing privacy and competitive concerns. Even data systems within an individual public agency may be fragmented and difficult to use, hampering staff from fully harnessing operational data for decision making. Infrastructure, processing power, consistent systems, and extensive coordination will be required to make the best use of emerging technology and data resources.


The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.


Coordinate traffic operations region-wide

Coordinated traffic operations involve collaboration between transportation agencies to collect data, monitor and adjust equipment, detect traffic incidents, reroute travelers, and dispatch resources to address problems on the region’s roadways. Traffic management centers are the hub of this coordination. The region’s largest TMCs are the Tollway Traffic and Incident Management System and IDOT’s ComCenter.[3] Counties and cities in the region operate TMCs at various scales and with varying degrees of coordination.


The ability for traffic signals to adapt to changing conditions is a key component of coordinated operations, but many of the region’s signals currently operate on fixed timing plans. These signals are not only unable to adapt in real time to changing conditions, but they also may have timing plans that are out of date, created years or even decades ago when traffic volumes were significantly different from current and anticipated conditions. Updating these older signals in areas with high current bus ridership or planned high-frequency bus service should be a high priority to make them compatible with future TSP implementation. The RTA is leading the Regional Transit Signal Priority Implementation Program, which has identified 13 transit corridors spanning about 100 miles of roadway and 400 signalized intersections as strategic corridors for TSP implementation.[4]


CMAP, IDOT, and local agencies should work toward implementing a regional, multijurisdictional traffic management center, either virtual or traditional.

IDOT, the Tollway, and local agencies should enhance communication and coordination to improve work zone management.

Highway and transit agencies should continue to share operational information and expand coordination opportunities.

CMAP should work with stakeholders to develop a regional communications master plan and update the regional ITS architecture.

CMAP and partner agencies should establish a program to modernize traffic signals, including the provision of TSP.

Highway agencies should review traffic signal policies, ensure up-to-date signal timing plans to minimize delay and crashes, and implement adaptive signal timing where appropriate.

CMAP should continue to maintain its highway traffic signal inventory.

CMAP should work with transportation agencies to fund and execute planning activities that work toward implementing active expressway management, active arterial management, and integrated corridor management.

Continue to plan for system modernization while making progress toward a state of good repair

The region should take advantage of every opportunity to modernize, improve, and enhance our transportation system while bringing it into a state of good repair. If paired with maintenance activities, these improvements can be accomplished at lower cost than if they were standalone projects. Although transportation agencies do regularly undertake such modernization efforts in conjunction with required maintenance, they could accomplish even more with additional advance planning. To cite several examples, reconstruction of a roadway can enable the laying of communications fiber. Requiring the installation of empty communications conduit when projects are built would decrease the cost of adding fiber in the future. Reconstruction projects also present an opportunity to upgrade infrastructure for utilities and stormwater and to implement complete streets projects. Routine rehabilitation of transit stations is also an opportunity to install real-time passenger information technology and to upgrade operational communications technology. Identifying all potential synergies and efficiencies between modernization and state of good repair will require additional communication across departments within agencies.


Transportation agencies should expand coordination of future communication infrastructure, incorporating features during normal roadwork to make future enhancements easier and cheaper.  

Transportation agencies should discuss modernization opportunities while developing projects.

Make the collection, sharing, and analysis of public and private sector transportation data a regional priority

To make sound decisions, the region’s transportation agencies require data from all elements of the network, whether public or private. This is especially important to better understand non-motorized, freight, and TNC travel, each of which has been difficult to measure and analyze due to inadequate data. More frequent and detailed data on pedestrian and cyclist behavior could become available as sensing technology is increasingly deployed in public rights of way, and as private and public agencies analyze aggregated data from mobile devices and activity tracking apps. This might enable more efficient and accurate counts of cyclists and pedestrians as well as more complete inventories of the infrastructure they use. The region has greatly advanced its understanding of truck travel through the use of new data sources and monitoring systems, but similar information on rail movements -- particularly private systems -- is limited.


To understand rail performance, CMAP has made progress in collecting new data in recent years, but this data is aggregated to a high level that does not allow evaluation of potential rail projects. For tax dollars to be invested in private projects, private rail operators must demonstrate sufficient public benefits. Only with appropriate data from the freight rail industry -- including speeds, volumes, and reliability of freight trains along specific corridors and at key rail-rail crossings -- can this all-important analysis be conducted. Existing and emerging private providers have broad impacts on the transportation network, impacts that need to be part of investment decisions. Local governments and transit agencies should work with TNCs and other private transportation providers to obtain the data necessary to make sound decisions. With full respect for the right of private companies for their sensitive data to be kept secure, public decision makers have the obligation to assess whether limited taxpayer dollars are being invested wisely and to examine the public benefits and costs of these services’ use of the public right of way. With a long record of safeguarding similarly sensitive data, CMAP will continue to play a major role in aggregating, normalizing, and sharing data as appropriate with regional stakeholders.


Public agencies also need to invest in their own data analysis, storage, and sharing capabilities. Such agencies, particularly lower capacity ones, might have difficulty collecting and managing transportation data as it increases in volume and complexity. Commercial services are increasingly essential for data collection, analysis, and visualization, reducing public agencies' dependence on in-house expertise and potentially reducing costs, yet increasing their dependency on third-party tools and data providers. Public agencies should have the right to use, retain, and -- when appropriate -- share data collected by private sector sources on the behalf of public agencies or as a result of a public-private partnership. In turn, the public sector has its own valuable datasets, including system performance, conditions, and incidents. The public sector must carefully navigate competing mandates to provide open access to government data and protect the privacy of residents. This strategy also appears in the Governance chapter under the recommendation to Base investment decisions on data and performance.


CMAP should continue to play a leadership role in promoting responsible and regionally consistent data stewardship collection, analysis, and sharing among public sector partners including the City of Chicago, RTA, transit agencies, counties, and municipalities.

The public sector should identify ways to leverage provision of more detailed data and analysis to private companies while carefully protecting riders’ privacy.

Private sector partners should share data that aids planning for transit, the road network, and emerging mobility services.

Municipalities and transportation agencies should contractually require data sharing as a condition for private companies’ access to public infrastructure (roadways, loading areas, etc.) or to subsidies.

CMAP and partners should improve region-wide data on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and travel patterns.

Private rail partners should provide substantive documentation of any data supporting the public benefits of CREATE projects and allowing assessment of potential rail improvements that could benefit passenger movements.

Ensure that emerging transportation technologies support inclusive growth

Without thoughtful implementation, emerging transportation technologies may be cost-prohibitive for lower income households, people with disabilities, and municipalities with fewer fiscal resources. On the other hand, in combination with continued support for public transit, technology for shared mobility and automated vehicles has the potential to enhance mobility for lower income residents and to improve access to jobs, healthcare, and other essential destinations for lower income communities. Making inclusive growth a cornerstone from the very outset of policy development for emerging technologies can help leverage them to reduce rather than increase inequities of access to transportation.


Communities with limited resources will be less able to anticipate and respond to changing land use and traffic patterns caused by evolving transportation technologies. They may also be less able to purchase sensor, communication, and data processing equipment that could allow them to reap the benefits of new technology. Unless transportation implementers consciously include disabled users and low income communities in pilot projects and early implementation phases, technologies are unlikely to meet these communities’ needs. For example, without careful planning, AVs could exacerbate an existing trend: Congestion patterns lead to increased vehicle speeds in disinvested communities on roads that were originally designed to accommodate higher volumes of slower vehicles, now making them increasingly difficult and dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians to navigate. Failure to ensure vehicle accessibility at the outset can prevent communities with the most to gain in improved mobility and independence from using new services, and require companies to make costly retrofits. At the same time, innovative technologies could reduce the need for car ownership, decrease household and municipal transportation expenses, attract new investment to disinvested areas with transit access, and provide a wider range of transportation options for residents of economically disconnected communities.


CMAP should help communities identify the potential benefits and pitfalls of new technologies with regard to economic competitiveness, affordable mobility, accessibility, and local quality of life.

RTA and CMAP should develop guidance to ensure that any partnerships with private mobility services provide clear public benefits and include protections for low income communities against sudden changes in the private market.

CMAP should play a leadership role to identify deficiencies and gaps in the transportation network for economically disconnected communities, and work with communities, riders, and public transit agency and private sector partners to identify solutions.

IDOT, counties, and other transportation agencies should ensure that disinvested communities are not adversely impacted by or excluded from improvements intended to facilitate new transportation options.

Establish pricing and regulatory frameworks that positively shape the impacts of autonomous vehicles and other technologies on infrastructure and land use

The impacts of TNCs, autonomous vehicles, and other emerging technologies will depend on the cost and convenience of low- and zero-occupancy vehicle travel for individuals and commercial services. The long-term direction of these advancements could provide considerable benefits to individuals, but they could also incur great public cost. On one hand, decline of car ownership in dense urban neighborhoods might allow substantial reallocation of road space for transit, pedestrians, and cyclists, yet some areas could see increased demand for automobile-oriented development, declines in transit ridership and fare revenue, and increased congestion, unreliability, and maintenance needs on the region’s roadways. Many decisions about safety and design standards will be made at the federal level, but regional and local agencies will need to implement policies to manage the public costs of low- or zero-occupancy vehicle travel. New pricing strategies can support the competitiveness of high capacity public transit, ensure funding is available for infrastructure and operational maintenance and modernization, and temper the demand for low occupancy vehicle use.


CMAP and its partners can influence the deployment of emerging technologies through strategic and coordinated policies. The region should avoid prohibiting or mandating specific technologies and focus on integrating new technologies into existing transportation systems and services in ways that leverage the new services’ strengths and help achieve reinvestment in existing communities, inclusive economic growth, congestion management, and emissions reduction. Appropriate policies may vary across the region depending on existing development patterns and local priorities. Communities with congested, transit-rich, or pedestrian-oriented corridors may consider expanding the use of geofencing, designated dropoff areas, and local fees to support transportation infrastructure. Communities across the region will need information to understand impacts and identify appropriate policy interventions. Over the long term, the region must identify and implement pricing and infrastructure strategies to ensure that AVs and other emerging technologies provide equitable and sustainable benefits.


IDOT should implement managed lanes on the region’s expressways and explore other pricing policies that could manage increased travel caused by autonomous vehicles.

CMAP should convene and coordinate regional stakeholders to engage in national and state-level conversations about autonomous and connected vehicle policy and industry standards.

CMAP, RTA, and transit agencies should work with communities to establish policies for AVs, TNCs, and other emerging technologies that support local land use, development, and livability goals.

Adapt the street and sidewalk to emerging developments in transportation

Urban neighborhoods, suburban downtowns, and commercial corridors must serve many types of travel and uses, from pedestrians to trucks and from mom-and-pop stores to mixed-use developments. These interactions are becoming more complex due to online shopping and associated deliveries, increased biking and walking, and mobility innovations like ride hailing companies and dockless bikeshare. Transit vehicles, loading zones, bicycles, and parking all compete for dedicated right of way on the street network. Without careful planning, unintentional conflicts can arise on the street network and on the sidewalk, such as when street furniture or bike parking makes it harder for someone with disabilities to navigate or for people to access bus stops.


Accommodating such varied needs in limited urban space is complex, but many solutions exist. Given the fast pace of change in mobility today, CMAP and partners can play a role in monitoring changes and establishing best practices for design, pricing, and shared uses. CMAP should work with communities to pilot new approaches and establish strategies to support public transit and preserve vibrant, equitable, accessible, and walkable communities. This strategy also appears in the Community chapter under the recommendation to Support development of compact, walkable communities.

Identify public investments that could catalyze emerging technologies

Because it is impossible to predict exactly which technologies will be in use by 2050, our core investments must be flexible enough to enable a wide range of potential outcomes. For example, most innovative transportation technologies, from real-time traffic information to automated vehicles, will rely on a robust communications network. No region-wide inventory of transportation-related fiber-optic cable location and condition currently exists, which makes planning for expansion opportunities more difficult. Building out a regional communications infrastructure network should be a high priority for the region’s many transportation implementers. Also, pilot testing of automated and connected vehicle infrastructure might provide opportunities to promote adoption of these technologies.


Due to increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, vehicles that use conventional gasoline will become more efficient, and more than a quarter of cars and light duty trucks could be powered by electricity and other alternative fuels by 2050.[5] Passenger cars are most likely to be electrified, with a dramatic increase in plug-in and hybrid electric vehicle market share projected by 2050. Transit agencies and local governments are investing in electric vehicles and replacing their fleet with more energy efficient vehicles. Yet, improved charging infrastructure is needed to increase adoption rates of electric vehicles.


Identifying these opportunities will require new tools and analytical techniques as well as effort from the public and private sectors to collaborate on transparently providing data and information. Implementers will also need to better understand the long-term financial implications of technology investments. For example, the many transportation agencies in the region who implement and maintain ITS equipment could benefit from a shared understanding and vision for the transition to connected vehicles. CMAP’s current role in convening the Advanced Technology Task Force positions the agency well to pursue analysis of connected vehicle opportunities in the Chicago region and coordinate development of a regional vision for AVs.


CMAP, IDOT, and civic organizations should continue to coordinate with partners in academia and public agencies to develop analytical tools and track the impact of emerging technologies.

Federal government, CMAP, transit agencies, or IDOT should conduct an analysis of places where deployment of technologies could provide the greatest benefit to the region.

RTA, IDOT, CMAP, and other programming agencies should fund or host pilot projects of technologies that attempt to address regional transportation issues.

CMAP should continue to fund fleet replacement, such as electric buses and charging stations, through CMAQ.

Transportation agencies should adopt electric vehicles and other innovative emission reduction technologies and plan for integration of solar and charging stations into new projects.

Local governments should review development ordinances to identify ways to promote electric vehicle infrastructure in the transportation system.

The region’s transportation agencies and CMAP should closely track and report back on other pilots, including successes, failures, lessons learned, and evaluation of results against our regional goals.



[1] Federal Highway Administration, “Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Trends and Advanced Strategies for Congestion Mitigation,” September 2005,

[2] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Congestion Report," in progress, due 2018.

[3] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Highway Operations,” February 2017, http:/

[4] Regional Transportation Authority, “Regional Transit Signal Priority (TSP) Implementation Program,” accessed March 28, 2018,

[5] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Outlook 2017,”

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